CastilloAs someone who entered the world of metal during the mid-1990s, I quickly got used to bands evolving and changing established formulas. We never knew if someone’s next album was going to go techno, or go punk rock, or invent new subgenres entirely. Granted, a lot of these “experiments” had commercial motives behind them, and oftentimes the results straight-up sucked. But still, there’s something to be said for being surprised.

Looking at the current metal landscape, I see a general lack of surprises. So many bands are now concerned with mere survival, attempting the increasingly impossible task of making a living off of music. Predictably, this leads to a mentality of “giving the people what they want.” The next album Obituary makes will probably sound a lot like their last one. Ditto for SuffocationTestamentCrowbarMachine Head, and countless others. Even Metallica, the reigning kings of fucking around and disappointing everyone, played it safe with their latest album Death Magnetic.

Sadly, all of these bands have learned (sometimes the hard way) that change is not looked upon fondly by most metal fans. In the interest of paying the rent, they have chosen not to risk alienating anyone at all. Mikael Akerfeldt of Opeth described this mindset as “the desire to be a creative artist…exchanged for considering a band as almost some type of corporation,” which I think is a fair comparison. McDonalds and Coca-Cola are never going to change the recipe as long as people keep buying it; neither is Dream Theater

For a lot of bands, this approach seems to be working. These albums typically get good reviews, the bands continue to tour and play festivals, the kids buy t-shirts, and all is well…except for one thing:

Man-sleeping-and-snoring-overhead-view

THIS MUSIC IS FUCKING BORING.

I fail to see the point in listening to retreads of older records, or any music that’s completely derivative. It’s like watching a movie for the second time; you know damn well how it’s going to end. It’s pathetic. And it paints heavy metal — a genre built on rebellion and pissing people off — as being conservative and hopelessly trapped in the past. We may appreciate Motorhead for reliably making the same record over and over again, but they should be the exception, not the rule. And by clinging to the tried and tr00 while resisting any kind of change, we risk turning into our dads. Which A) is really lame, and B) would mean the end of metal as a relevant genre of music.

Granted, there are plenty of artists that are still pushing the boundaries and occasionally offending people who need to be offended. The aforementioned Opeth is a good example. So are MayhemAnathema, and Ihsahn, to randomly name a few. There are also newer groups like Baroness and In Solitude who are building something original out of their influences. These bands don’t give a flying fuck what the Metal Cred Patrol® thinks, and we should be grateful that they don’t.

To me, the issue isn’t “why aren’t more bands taking risks,” but “why is altering the status quo even considered a risk?” So let me ask you this: Why are we rewarding bands for playing it safe? Why are we buying re-recordings of albums from the ’80s, or going to live shows where old records are performed front-to-back? Have we been burned by too many Iliud Divinum Insanus‘ and St. Anger‘s to keep an open mind? Are we such creatures of habit that the only thing we ask of bands is “hey, do that again”?

More importantly, what is it that YOU want to hear?

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  • Fazy

    Well, the answer is simple, a lot of people don’t like change.
    “Oh, their second album was the best, I wish they made more of that!” and so on. Bands get so much flak for changing their formula more than slightly.

    I think that sucks big time and most of us need to have more open minds. Maybe sometimes your favourite band changes and therefore shifts further from your tastes, however I think that’s a price we gotta pay (… and the price is our own life until it’s done). A change might hurt, but lack of it is just a slow death by stagnation.

  • Adam

    Not sure I agree with most of this. If I want something new, for the most part I look to a new up-and-coming band to contribute something unique. Machine Head, Metallica and Testament have made their mark, evolved the genre in their own ways. For a band to even make it ‘big’ they (usually) have to be bringing something original to the table to start with, even if they eventually settle into a predictable sound.

    All the bands mentioned were slammed for deviating from their signature sound. Most of the examples provided in the article are bad ones. The article asks and answers its own question.

    sidenotes:
    1) Opeth’s current experiment is in my opinion, balls. If I wanted to listen to prog rock I’d listen to a prog rock band instead of a death metal band.

    2) I liked that Machine Head song, cheesy though it may be, until I saw the video. Those hairstyles… eat a dick 90s.

    • Fisting_Andrew_Golota

      No one said that ANY of those bands created anything mind-blowingly great in the ’90s. But at least they weren’t phoning it in.

      I guess my actual question in the article was: if metal fans aren’t interested in ANY of those creative detours, and stagnation results in extinction, where exactly do we go from here? What evolutions would be welcomed as a good thing?

      • Adam

        It’s hard to say really. New bands will always be trying new twists and fusions on genres but it seems unlikely that any are going to have enough impact to cause a major genre movement. it’s entirely possible that metal as a broad genre has reached or is close to its creative peak. Where can it go without becoming something else entirely? Is anyone waiting for a metal-dubstep fusion popularity spike?

  • eloli

    As a guy who got into metal in the early to mid 80s, here are my thoughts on this piece.
    1) Let’s not forget that most of the 90s experimentation that metal bands undertook in this era was mostly a desperate reaction to metal’s rapidly declining popularity or unsuccessful genre crossing rebrandings, or both. I mean, as much as I consider Tiamat’s “Wildhoney” my favourite album ever, I can’t forget how on the next album they became The Sisters of Mercy. Or the fact that after One Second, Paradise Lost became basically a Depeche Mode tribute band. Or that after a brilliant album like Judgement, Anathema simply said “fuck it, let’s just become a Radiohead clone”. Nostalgia can give us old farts rose tinted glasses: a lot of the 80s bold, genre creating experiments were either happy accidents like Venom’s Black Metal or Celtic Frost’s To Megatherion, but let’s not forget that a lot of this experiments were pretty unsuccessfull themselves… Cold Lake anyone?
    2) Can stripping your sound of those elements that made it unique and becoming a completely different band, playing a different genre on the porcess be considered a desirable evolution? I mean, Opeth’s thing was their brilliant melding of death metal and 70s prog rock. If Opeth becomes a 70s prog rock band that pretty much sounds like Camel, where’s the “fearless experimentation”? That’s just lazy genre hopping, IMO. Illud Divinus, anyone?
    3) From an artistic point of view, metal has been on a rut for 15 years now. And that’s ok, there’s only so much experimentation any genre can withstand before becoming either boring musical masturbation or a completely different thing, At this point in its history, metal is more a musical tradition, much like the blues, or rock, than it is a trailblazing artistic medium.
    4) Much related to 3), let’s not kid ourselves, metal’s core audience is old, and in in pop culture terms, ancient. Original 70s metalheads are near retirement age. NWHOBM and US headbangers from the early 80s are struggling with their midlife crisis. Mid and late 80s thrashers are knee deep in mortage debt, taking care of their kids. 90s deathers, blackers and post thrashers are buying their first house and having kids. 00s metalcorers are settling down and getting married. The majority of kids today are simply not interested in metal (or in rock, I might say), since to people under 25, music is not that important in defining their personalities as it was for prior genertations(1). That’s the reason why only legacy acts can get away with selling out stadiums and arenas on their own, and most suppossedly “hot new acts” are relegated to club dates and some exposure in festivals. Face it, in the grand scheme of pop culture, heavy metal hasn’t been relevant since 1994, and it thrives as an underground, elitist music club thanks to the Internet.
    5) For a music genre that suppossedly is about youthful rebellion, heavy metal has become incredibly conservative, and that’s pretty explained by 4). Heavy metal is still a viable music genre, but it must cater to a very larfe audience that just wants to remember the good ‘ol days, the audience that’s interested in musical experimentation is pretty limited, business wise.
    So, as much as I can agree with the author, I don’t really think bands retreading their old records is such a bad thing. I mean, at 42, I’m just as lame as my dad was at this age, and I’m ok with that, age brought a lot of great things, like two wonderful daughters, a great marriage, financial stability and self confidence, I’d take that over “being cool, current and trend savvy” anytime. So basically, when Slayer or Exodus drop their new albums later this year, I won’t really care if their just lame attemps to recapture their old glory, since my binge vodka drinking, 16 year old self will be happy, and that’s priceless.
    At the end of the day, people love music because it makes them happy. If metal makes people happy by redoing the same ol’ tired thing, where’s the harm?
    (1) I work in Advertising and I see this everyday, btw.

    • The Lascivious Snape

      Your second point is the very heart of the counter-argument.

      Opeth fans who don’t like Heritage or Pale Communion – well, most of them anyway – don’t dislike it because Opeth changed. They don’t like it, because they don’t like it. It’s nothing to do with creative freedom, evolution or being open minded. It’s simply that Opeth started making music that those fans don’t want to listen to, under any name.

      And that’s fine. Opeth isn’t wrong, but neither are the fans of Opeth’s old sound who still crave more.

      • eloli

        A story for ya.
        Last year, Opeth and Amon Amarth played my town on consecutive nights on the same stage. While the Amon Amarth gig was packed, Opeth couldn’t even get a decent attendance on a large club.
        As much as a big Opeth fan I consider myself to be, I wound up going to the Amon Amarth gig, which IMO, is the textbook example of a meh band.
        Why?
        Well, I have friends who love Amon Amarth, and having a good time with them sounded much better than going through a Heritage/Dmanation heavy Opeth set that only included five songs of what I consider that band’s true sound.
        Funny thing, it wasn’t even a money issue: because of my line of work, I can get free tickets to almost any show in my town that gets heavy radio support, but I just couldn’t drag myself out of the house enogh to see Opeth’s prog rock incarnation live, I just don’t care about it.

    • Fisting_Andrew_Golota

      Eloti– that was awesome. You hit the nail directly on the head. Thank you.

    • El Lado Oscuro

      Interesting points, but to the extend of my humble opinion: yes and no to many things… but you may be missing a point: the whole music industry is still adjusting itself to the major blow the internet meant and how it changed all the paradigms. Nobody, but only a few, and not precisely within the Metal sector, is making money which produces an uncharted situation.

      I think that the forced evolution the web produced will eventually turn into something good for the music, a real “survival of the fittest” … prolly beginning with the survival of only the real good ones (pure darwinism, that’s it) and making the ‘crowfunding’ one of the few viable options. Last 10 to 15 years had been a time of change, and the shock waves are still moving.

      • eloli

        Actually IMO, the Internet is the only factor keeping non legacy metal (and by extension, about 99% of the global scene) acts alive.
        Digital technologies have radically reduced production and distribution costs, yet at the same time, bring chronic choice fatige to listeners and fans.
        Also, despite the Internet, truth is there hasn’t been a game changing subgenre in heavy metal since black metal… most attempts at pushing the genre’s boundaries from a creative point of view have been mostly further explorations on hybridizations that were attempted in the late 80s and early 90s.
        As I stated originally, there’s only so much innovation a genre can withstand before it becomes a completely different thing, and IMO metal reached that point in the mid to late 90s.
        IMO, metal today is just a musical tradition that has a dazzling number of bands out there, but the immense majority are just playing the same ol’ cliches, and i see nothing wrong with that, since I enjoy those same ‘ol cliches.
        Also, true innovation can be really, really hard.
        My favourite three new (1) metal bands are Altar of Plagues, Evile and Diablo Swing Orchestra.
        Regarding Altar of Plagues, as much as I love their aproach, I don’t really listen to them that much, since I find their musical aproach a bit too taxing.
        Evile’s a completely different story: I just can’t get enough of them, even if they’re just recording the strong albums Metallica has been owing their fans since the late 80s.
        Diablo Swing Orchestra is the only one in this group that I find truly innovative and enjoyable, yet I’m still on the fence about if they’re a metal band or just a swing band that plays louder than most swing bands.
        So, IMO, metal is at a point where true innovation is so hard that it doesn’t even make sense to bother.
        (1) In my book, any band that’s less than 10 years old is new, he he.

    • utak3r

      I was just about to write, that I love changes and I hate bands playing the same things so much – and then I’ve read your point. You gave examples, which exactly made me angry so much years back.
      So… it looks both sides has their point.
      However – Tiamat, Paradise Lost, Anathema or The Gathering have changed their music genre at all and should change their names. That’s what sucks as hell and shouldn’t ever happen. But what I’d love to see more often, is continous searching (or experimenting) in some area, but staying what it was before.
      For example: I love what Behemoth did with their last LP, I love what Dimmu Borgir did, etc.
      And in those examples, there’s this problem with fans I cannot get: they go and burn their beloved bands just because they wanted not to release the same album they did before. To me, those examples are the examples of becoming more adult and more self-conscious bands – and resulting LPs are simply much better then the previous ones :) but they didn’t switch to, say, pop. They’re still what they were before – yet with quite much different music.

  • RF2000

    How about creating more original rants? This one has been done to death.

    • Fisting_Andrew_Golota

      More original comments would be nice too.

      • http://www.consinitymusic.com/ Rod

        Oh Snap!!

  • Oberon

    Look at Therion’s from “Of Darkness” to “Secret of the Runes”. That’s a lot of evolution and experimentation going on. It’s a slippery slope for a band to keep their fan base happy and to be able to express themselves musically.

  • Chris Why?

    Ok, here’s my take on this:

    When I hear a new group, there has got to be something that they are doing that I’m not getting from other existing groups. Provided that they do this, I have now become interested in them because of certain aspects and elements in the band’s sound. Those very same things must be present in ALL of their future efforts. However, I expect to see different shades and shapes of it.

    Bands like Queens of the Stone Age, The Mars Volta, and Fair to Midland (FtM more than anyone else) are very good at changing up their sound but still being the same band. Each album those bands make is different, yet related to the others. I’ll make this very clear right now: I DON’T KNOW SHIT. When I heard Songs for the Deaf, it had to grow on me a bit, but I came to really love the record. Next, Lullabies to Paralyze came out and I loved it immediately. Then, Era Vulgaris came out… I thought it was awful. It was insanely different. I came back to it a year or two later and actually tried giving it a fair chance, and my tastes changed. Era Vulgaris is now my favorite QotSA album. I NEED THAT in the music that I listen to, because I don’t know shit. I need to be challenged with something new, because I don’t always realize it when the change comes. There’s a perspective that I was previously blind to that I can now see. Stuff like that is wonderful to me.

    I don’t think bands should cater their music to their audience, but I also don’t think that they should change everything about themselves either. They need to remember what makes them who they are. If a band decides to copy the sound of another band, I lose all interest. That really sucks when a group morphs into another. On the flip-side though, I like what I think sounds good. That’s an obvious statement on the surface, but I mean it when I say it. Darkest Hour is one of my favorite bands. Their new self-titled is not the monster that it normally is or what I was initially expecting from them, but I really like the new sound. You can argue whatever you want about the intentions of the band on this record, but I really like how it sounds. The same is especially true for Metallica’s Load and Reload.

    All in all, the core personality still needs to be present, but that doesn’t mean that the band has to continue in a straight line down the road. They can branch out and take the more winding roads, but they need to make sure that they are still going the right way. Opeth is guilty of losing their way IMO. The thing that they have done wrong with their sound is not a progression to where they are now, but rather a stripping away of what made it great. The lack of growling isn’t the problem, but rather it’s the lack of darkness. Damnation was peaceful, but also very sad and even eerie at times. That’s why it succeeded and Heritage failed. Yes, the songwriting was weak on Heritage but so was the spirit. It doesn’t sound like Opeth to me because I don’t hear the danger in their music anymore. Shit, think about their band logo. The name is designed to look like that of a metal band but it also has the nifty swirls and designs to it. That encompassed what Opeth was all about, to me. The mixture of beautiful and evil. Now it’s all poppy sounding ’70s prog which is NOT what what I got into them for.

    In conclusion, I appreciate change and understand that I need it, even if I get caught up wanting more of the same. Some is bad, some is good, it just depends on the type of change being presented. Too much of a good thing makes it a bad thing.

    • Fisting_Andrew_Golota

      Well said, man. That’s exactly what I’m looking for here. Thanks.

  • Refined-Iron Cranium

    Just out of interest, what’s your opinion on the new In Flames album (and their last few) and do you consider that a good way of evolving their sound?

    • Fisting_Andrew_Golota

      Haven’t heard it, probably never will. “Creative evolution” is different than “blatantly chasing trends,” and I have no time for the latter.

      • Refined-Iron Cranium

        Good answer.

  • EricSyre

    Metal became a conservative genre years ago, like Rock, Jazz or even Classical before. People enjoy formulas and safety, even when they supposedly going against the grain by being “outcast” metalheads.

    People in general have crappy musical tastes and they rightfuly get what they deserve these days.

  • Chris Latta

    There is definitely something to be said for evolution but too many bands and fans overlook the fact that good songwriting is more important than anything else in the music equation. Heritage was limp because the writing was aimless while Illud and St. Anger fucked everything up because the songs needed to be so much shorter or more dynamic than they turned out to be. In contrast, I keep buying Accept’s new albums even though they haven’t evolved that much because they’re still catchy as hell. Whether you’re writing acoustic doom or jazz metal, just make sure you give a damn about how your songs are constructed and I will too.

  • DIMENSIONAL BLEEDTHROUGH

    I see we’re pretending that “Lulu” doesn’t exist. I am fine with this.

    • Carlos Marrickvillian

      Best review I saw of Lulu was two lines and read something like
      ‘Lou Reed mumbling over Metallica playing boring blues jams. Possibly worst thing ever’

  • http://www.metalvortex.net/ [HKK] Hell³

    The problem as I see it is not with bands that experiment, the problem is people thinking and getting used to band names taken as “brands” It is a common pitfall that everyone falls into, consequence of the way our brain categorizes info so it won’t all mix into a pile of mud and white noise.

    Of course we get even mildly annoyed at a band that changes its sound. “They should have changed the name” will be the most common gripe. “This is not the sound I fell in love with” may be the second, because we get emotionally invested in this music.

    We may not care as much for this happening in other major genres because we’re not even aware of the nuances between, say, every other indie-pop outfit. The same as people not into metal isn’t aware of the difference between Metallica and Mayhem.

    So, I guess it will always will be a risk changing the band sound without changing the “brand.” Fans should be aware as well that it also can be an artistic statement doing so: “We love you fans, but this is the band’s brand, and we do as we want with it”. Others may take the safest route of having side projects or actually calling it quits. And we will always have the nagging fear of a band shamelessly cashing in on brand popularity, but at least we have sites like AMG to hilariously call them out on that I guess.

  • AnimalShenanigans

    I’d add Ulver to that list too. Those guys put everything they’ve got behind a new direction, and IMO it’s worked for them every time. I think it’s interesting though, as all of the bands you named as evolving have arguable gotten “softer” over time, minus Mayhem. Do you think people find a lot of these things “evolutionary” because they’re not familiar with what is outside their own wheelhouse, in this case metal? As eloli pointed out, Opeth has essentially become a 70’s prog band. I still love them, and am on my third spin of Pale Communion as I’m writing this, but perhaps it’s so “different” to some metalheads because they may not be familiar with, say, Camel (as per eloli’s example, again, awesome post dude!). Perhaps we’re so used to the genre that things start to blur more, so smaller tweaks that may later be seen as brilliant slip by unnoticed in favor of genre-hopping.

  • JK_Fullmetal

    I have mixed feelings on this. As others have mentioned in this thread, we all want to feel comfortable with our music. You’ll always have the connect with bands that developed your tastes even if you/band decides to move on.

    It comes down to the fan whether he wants to play safe or go out and find acts that will challenge his tastes. The journey will be harsh and demanding and one will have to wade through a whole heap of half-baked ideas. But good music will always stand out. Metal has evolved. Early metal to NWOBHM to Thrash to Black / Death and so on. The current soundscape is based on hybridisations, so I feel that new acts will keep pushing boundaries, bringing something new to the bloody metal platter.

    Whether I will continue to take part in this strange, bloody feast as i get older depends on too many variables. That’s the real question – No answers for that :p

  • Weirwolfe

    Great article and some great responses to boot. Far more eloquent and convincing than I could ever be. I can only hope to contribute thus. My band laid down the basic tracks for a new song on the weekend. Our singer for this new song is hopefully going to be Paul Mario Day who once fronted a fledgling Iron Maiden before Mr Dianno. He then sang for More, Wildfire and had a tenure in Sweet in the Eighties. Paul sings for a local cover band called Defaced and still has an impressive set of pipes. We are really lucky and honored to be working with him. Point being , the song we wrote has a NWOBHM feel, hints of early Saxon, Priest, Motorhead and AC/DC. Horses for courses. It’s heavy and breaks no new ground but rocks like a bastard. Isn’t that what it’s all about? If I choose to indulge my experimental side I’ll listen to Striborg or Deafheaven. If a want to rock out give me some Torino fronted Accept or Saxon live. If I feel stale give me some Johnny Winter live. The beauty of the genre is that it caters for so many different moods and styles. Experimentation is great but the sad fact is that many experiments end in tears, If it’s not broken why try and fix it? Bit like reinventing the wheel.

  • Carlos Marrickvillian

    Damn late to the party here good conversation!
    I’ve always admired bands/artists that can keep making music that connects and/or is genuine. I don’t think artists should ‘try’ and reinvent themselves if your natural inclination is to be like Motorhead, nail a shtick and have the time of your life essentially making the same entertaining record over and over again knock yourself out! And if people find it relevant, why change? Would anyone seriously want to see Autopsy or Entombed break new ground with a discordant down beat album with guest vocals from Bjork…
    That said the cultural context and the delivery of Metal is so different now compared to the 80s / 90s bands don’t have to try so hard to be noticed or fit in. Scenes are less exclusive, its OK to like MBV, Neurosis and Darkthrone now, no one gives a shit.
    Metal is still exciting bands are always upping the ante and breaking new ground. Go back and listen to Gorguts and The Ocean from last year or Triptikon, Artificial Brain, Pall Bearer, Tombs and Opeth all from just the last few months.
    Metal is alive and well my friends!

  • TminusEight

    Interesting thread. I wonder though if it might be expecting too much for a band to continue to evolve musically in a significant way. The main fertile window for new sounds to emerge is when a band forms, as the members’ respective styles and influences are brought together to create something new. But after that, what would be the process for any significant new sound to emerge? The ‘mating’ of the member’s styles can only occur once. And from then on a bunch of processes would kick in to constrain the band’s style – in the form of their playing together being habituating, and any acclaim they receive reinforcing that style. If that were the case, where and how could something truly new come into the mix? So we might ask how *any* bands manage to evolve significantly through their career (rather than why more bands don’t)?

  • hubcapiv

    I agree that rise of band = brand makes bands less likely to take risks. In the pre-Internet world of fewer releases and stronger record labels, a band that Made It could afford to experiment with a few off-kilter releases. Nowadays I can’t really blame a band that actually manages to break through the webernets clutter for playing it close to the vest.

    But even if the bands are more conservative, that doesn’t mean musicians in them are. I think the last decade has seen the growth of side projects and collaborations, certainly more than I remember from the 90s. So I think musicians are still trying different things, they are just doing them in different combinations and under different names.

    (The fact that so many of these side projects are dad-/retro-rock is another issue…but that’s why I said “different things” and not “new things.”)

    Anyway…I’m not sure there’s any less experimentation or variety out there. It’s just shifted from “one band doing different things” to “same dude in different bands doing different things.”

  • I Shot J.R

    In the last few years I’ve listened to Load and Reload more than the “good” albums.

  • Requiem

    My favourite type of metal of late is a more melodic death/black in the vein of Dark Tranquility- Fiction, Whispered- Shogunate macabre etc. It’s just so damn interesting to hear this kind of music experimenting and trying different melodies and musical ideas, and it generally sounds epic and awesome. I wholeheartedly agree that experimentation and boundary pushing should be key defining elements of metal as well- after all, if these aren’t, then what would take its place?